Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Film Review: Poltergeist (2015)

Copyright: 20th Century Fox
Poltergeist from 1982 is one of those films that are etched into the hearts of many generations. Here, Spielberg showed how horror and utter amazement can go hand in hand while it also generated incredible amounts of money. Naturally, topping that for any would-be re-imagining is a pretty big deal, which is why, it seems to me, the creators of Poltergeist 2015 really didn’t even try.

I have to say right off the bat that I really loved this film. It has some awesome visual moments, mainly where the light from objects is used as a material element, not as something untouchable. Here, the director Gil Kenan really presented some impressive moves, which are not overproduced or hammered upon the audience by the 3D setting.

At the same time, many problematic things that often show up in horror films, like obnoxious little children or the irresistible need to make the actions of the protagonists logical (they never are and we’re never convinced as the viewers by the explanations) are completely excluded. From the first moment a child disappears, the parents are like: “This is supernatural. We have to call the Ghostbusters.”

A minute later, Ghostbusters (in this case a team from the local university) show up and say “Yep, these are ghosts you have here. Even worse, they are a Poltergeist. We have to call a Ghostbusters specialist.” Soon after, a specialist appears, played by Jared Harris, who is also immediately assured that stuff is supernatural to the max. Fortunately, Harris got to try out this role, minus the humor and benevolence, in The Quiet Ones, and does a decent job, unlike others, but more about this later.

This approach is really liberating from the regular horror ebb and flow of belief/disbelief which I find more and more to be pointless and dull. It allows the Poltergeist movie to evolve as a ride and provide ample amounts of satisfying twists and turns, although nothing that will make James Wan wants to steal a trick or two for his next film.

But, I completely understand why many did not like the film. Firstly, it copies the narrative of the original play by play, adding only stuff like iPad controlled camera-carrying drones, which is kind of lame. It also has this weird imbalance of production values. Because of it, the house where the action takes place looks painfully boring, along with its surroundings. While the first film made a huge deal about this transformation of the suburban landscape into a hell portal, Poltergeist 2015 fails to pull off anything similar to this idea. The house that is featured in it begins as a boring home and ends up as a boring exploded home, which isn’t much of a story arc for it.

Lastly, there is the issue of Sam Rockwell as Eric Bowen, the father and husband of the family. I really love Rockwell as a character actor, but he was a serious miscast for this film. Throughout the film, he emits an ironic, detached feel that is completely out of his character’s supposed frame of mind. His many dry remarks not only fail to produce humor, but also make it harder for the audience to be immersed in the plight of the Bowen family. I’m not sure why Rockwell accepted the role, but he sure seems like he wanted to do something else.

This, along with the production issues, tells me that Gil Kenan fully understood that he wasn’t making the “next” Poltergeist and instead he tried his best to make “another” Poltergeist film.

The Poltergeist full movie was something that I very much enjoyed, but most of that came from expecting to see weird and scary things in a setting that was familiar to me. While I wish it to be enjoyable for others as well, it is by no means a great horror film.